Online Harms Act not about ‘insults launched from a smartphone’: minister

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Justice Minister says online harms bill is not ‘about insults launched from a smartphone’
WATCH: The federal government tabled its long-awaited online harms bill, C-63, legislation that seeks to make the internet safer for children and crack down on hateful content. ’The West Block’ host Mercedes Stephenson is joined by Justice Minister Arif Virani who addresses criticisms that the online harms bill is government overreach and impedes on free speech – Mar 3, 2024

Justice Minister Arif Virani is defending against criticism that the Liberals’ sweeping new online harms bill could have a chilling effect on free speech.

Virani says the legislation is not about censoring “insults launched from a smartphone” but instead giving victims and law enforcement more tools to respond to a rising tide of hate in Canada.

“We’re not talking about insulting, offensive remarks or bad jokes. We’re talking about things like calling for the extermination of a people,” the justice minister told host Mercedes Stephenson in an interview on The West Block.

Bill C-63, tabled Monday, focuses mainly on protecting children against sexual abuse and exploitation on the internet.

The legislation also includes new measures targeting hate crimes.

But some legal experts call the proposed changes overly broad and warn they will stifle debate.

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“It’s very difficult to know where the line is between controversial speech and speech that is actually said hateful,” Josh Dehaas, a lawyer with the Canadian Constitution Foundation, said in an interview with Global News this week.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, meanwhile, says the bill represents a “serious clampdown on freedom of expression.”

“There are a lot of ways we’re concerned about limiting people’s expression, limiting people’s privacy, limiting people’s liberty,” CCLA executive director Noa Mendelsohn Aviv said on Wednesday.

If passed, the legislation would change the Human Rights Act to make posting hate speech online a form of discrimination. Anyone found guilty by the Canadian Human Rights Commission would be ordered to pay $20,000.

The bill would also usher in tougher sentences for hate propaganda crimes like advocating genocide, which could carry life in prison.

But Mendelsohn says the government has gone “overboard” with penalties she calls “too large and too stiff.”

Virani insists the harsher sentences were necessary to respond to a recent spike in hate crimes across the country.

An investigation by Global News shows a surge in antisemitic incidents since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

Proposed changes under C-36 would allow a judge to impose certain conditions on people who may commit a hate crime, like placing them under house arrest.

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If a person has threatened a specific community, it would be “appropriate to attach conditions to prevent a person like that from being close to a mosque, close to a synagogue, for example,” Virani said.

He pointed to the case of Nathaniel Veltman, the London, Ont., man convicted of killing four members of a family because they were Muslim.

Someone seeking a peace bond to stop a potential hate crime would have to provide evidence to a court, and a provincial attorney general would have to approve the order, Virani said.

The justice minister says the concept isn’t new — similar measures are already “used very frequently” to prevent other crimes, like domestic abuse.

“A peace bond exists in the Criminal Code, yes, but not a peace bond with respect to hate offences such as the public incitement of hatred, the willful promotion of hatred, advocating genocide. That link has not been made and that is new.”

– with files from The Canadian Press


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